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Travel Report, Tanzania


Tanzania: travel notes 2007

Dar-es-salam is on the Indian Ocean, with lovely palm trees along the coast. My goddaughter, Nora, and I drove north from Dar to the game reserve and saw wildebeests, hippos–the part that came up for air anyway, impalas and giraffes who stay close together, elephants and warthogs. We drove on very rutted dirt roads, typical of most except some potholed paved roads in the cities.

About one-third of the people are Muslims (I saw a few women in full purdah in black from head to toe, even their faces covered, but most wear headscarfs), one-third is Christians and another third are animists (the belief that animals and natural objects such as trees and rocks have souls, using shamans to communicate with nature). Over 120 tribes live in Tanzania; I heard people ask each other about tribal background. The Massai stand out as the men wear traditional red or purple wrap-around cloth and white sandals. They often carry a spear or dagger, employed as guards in the city for protecting houses or cars in front of restaurants and bars.

One of the bigger village homes I visited in Mang’ula, in rural Tanzania, had no closets, as the family has few clothes, no books, and no toys. (See photos of the house on flickr) There’s no need for closets, just a few folded clothes in the three bedrooms, which don’t have doors. Made of mud bricks, it has a tin roof set above the house with open air and dirt floors. The roof is open above the walls for ventilation so nets over the beds are needed to keep out mosquitoes. In addition to beds in four rooms, the central space has a table with four chairs, a sideboard, table and two couches.

Food is cooked outside in unhealthy aluminum pans over charcoal or wood heat over simple bricks outside. We saw men riding bikes carrying large bags of charcoal. They eat tomatoes, eggplant, bananas, rice, potatoes, maize, onions, eggs, okra, cabbage, and beef, goat, and chicken. The main dish in east Africa is called Ugali, a dumpling made from maize. A small room outside the house has a stool on one side of a wall to bathe and a toilet hole on the other side. This family is fortunate to be near an outside water pump. (See photos of another Tanzanian village.[i])

Even in Dar-es-salem, the largest city, there are basic infrastructure problems in addition to the very bumpy dirt roads. Until recently, water had to be delivered. Now it comes in pipes and is stored in large tanks; you turn on the pump when water pressure gets low. Power goes out almost daily, a problem mentioned by youth surveyed in Dar and many other developing countries. Corruption is a problem: Policemen might stop you while you’re driving to ask for a bribe. Most of the consumer items are imported, including African design fabric from India (few women dress in western clothes), pans from China and so on. I visited a large Muslim school that looked similar to schools in any city.

Mawana is a Muslim resident of Dar. I asked her about the Muslim school survey responses:

Q: Where do students learn English slang like “hanging out with friends?”

A: They learn from friends at home or from their sisters and brothers or even Internet chat too. These students speak good English because they are not allowed to speak Swahili within the school environment.

Q: Students complained about power outages.

A: You know here in Tanzania, we have no security on electricity, it goes off regularly, and we can’t end a week without having a power problem. We experience no electricity on each weekend (either the whole day on Saturday or Sunday), and it goes off without having been announced.

Q: Some of the girls mentioned equality for women.

A: Islam stands for human equality, men and women are equal on getting basic needs and rights, on practicing religious events, rules and principles and in some places women are favored more. I hope they have an Islamic knowledge subject where they learn about equality for girls and women according to Qur-anic teachings, or they attend Qur-an madrasa/school after school so they get that insights from there.

[i] www.inourvillage.org/vv_village_scenes.html  Tanzanian village photos by kids.

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